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Middle East & North Africa

Death toll hits 112 in blast against Syrian Shiite evacuees

Xinhua News Agency | Mon,2017-04-17

The death toll of the bombing that rocked the convoy of Shiite evacuees in northern Syria rose to 112, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor group reported on Sunday.

The blast, carried out by a suicide bomber driving a booby-trapped potato truck, rocked the rebel-held Rashideen area in the countryside of Aleppo province, where buses carrying 5,000 pro-government Shiite people were waiting the reactivation of a deal designed to secure their transportation to government-controlled area in Aleppo.

The deal, recently reached between the rebels and the government under the supervision of Iran, Turkey and Qatar, was designed to secure evacuation of the people from the pro-government Shiite towns of Kafraya and Foa in Idlib province toward government areas in Aleppo province.

In return, the government will allow rebels and their families to leave the rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani in northern Damascus to reach Idlib province.

The evacuation started on Friday, with 5,000 Shiite people leaving Kafaraya and Foa, and 2,300 rebels and their families leaving the town of Madaya as first batches.

The Shiite people reached the rebel-held town of Rashideen, while the rebels reached the government-controlled Ramouseh crossing in Aleppo.

Both convoys were set to leave to their respective destinations, before the rebels in Rashideen held the convoy of the Shiite people, adding new demands to the original deal.

But after the deadly bombing, the rebels apparently succumbed to the pressure of their regional backers and allowed the buses to proceed to the government-controlled Aleppo city, marking thus the implementation of first part of the deal, through a prisoner swap that began on Wednesday and the evacuation that started on Friday and ended on Saturday.

Still, around 3,000 people are still in the Shiite towns waiting their turn in evacuation. Once they are out, both towns will be completely emptied of their population, and the rebels will take over, after besieging the towns for years.

It's the same with Madaya and Zabadani, as the army entered Madaya on Friday following the evacuation of the first batch of rebels and their families.

The next step of evacuation will be in Zadabani, where 500 rebel commanders and civilians are set to leave next.

Still, it's not clear when the second batch will leave the four towns, particularly after the explosion.